How Much?! The Rise and Rise of The Price of a Pint
A pint of lager has gone up 20-fold, or a staggering 1,948 per cent, since 1973! I was hardly surprised then when I recently paid £5.25 for a pint of Timothy Taylor Landlord in a London pub. This was certainly a long way from when I supped my first pint of Worthington E in 1974 for around 20p. There is no doubt that the quality of the product is far better today, but does it warrant such an increase in real terms?
A Historic Debate
The price of beer has always been a significant issue in British history. Until 1822, the cost of a pint of beer was set by law and governed by an Assize of Ale. The law took account of the price of raw materials, such as malted barley, and allowed different prices for beers of superior quality. It was enforced by ale tasters, or ale conners, who had the difficult task of tasting beer from brewers. They checked particularly for beer quality and price.This is hardly surprising as beer and bread were the diet staples for Britain’s poor before the Industrial Revolution.
In the two hundred years or so since the rise of market capitalism and the decline of the Assize of Ale, the price of a pint has continued to be a key issue. The State has occasionally intervened directly, but consumer demand was often the key driver.
One example of this state intervention was the Carlisle Experiment during WW1.
The scheme began in Carlisle in 1916, when the state set about nationalising all the breweries and over 300 pubs and licensed premises in Carlisle, Gretna, Silloth and a large part of rural north Cumbria, as well as a small part of Scottish border land.
The scheme's key aim was to keep vital munitions workers sober by restricting the supply of alcoholic drink. At the same time as closing a large number of existing pubs, it introduced new rules to moderate consumption and behaviour, and promoted the sale of food as well as alcohol in the pubs which stayed open.
Significantly the alcohol content of the drink on sale was reduced and prices were increased. New pub managers, effectively civil servants, replaced landlords and were paid a salary with no extra profits available from increasing sales.
It was a successful experiment that persisted in Carlisle until 1973.
The Beer Tax
In recent times of course it has been beer duty that has affected the price of a pint with a third of the cost made up of taxes, including beer duties. Aside from taxes, brewers have to shell out on ingredients, and smaller, independent beer producers can suffer more from a poor barley or hops harvest – or an unexpected CO2 shortage.
A Scary Future?
So where does it go from here? Well up and up, I guess. For some people, particularly lower income families, beer will become an unaffordable luxury, putting further pressure on many pubs in their bid to survive. I guess that’s a whole different debate though...
Enjoy your pint tonight, whatever it costs!